Deaths from superbug Clostridium Difficile quadruple
More than 6,000 people died in 2006 after becoming infected with the gut infection in hospitals across England and Wales – a more than four-fold rise compared with 2001 figures, the Office of National Statistics says.
Meanwhile, the number of deaths linked to MRSA rose by more than one third, with the infection mentioned on almost 1,700 death certificates in 2006.
The figures follow an admission by the Department of Health’s most senior experts in infection control that the main reason for a 50-fold increase in cases of Clostridium difficile in less than two decades is the failure of hospitals to follow hygiene rules drawn up 14 years ago.
Research by the Liberal Democrats found half of hospital trusts still do not put infected patients in their own rooms, while just one in five puts aside dedicated isolation wards in case of an outbreak.
Last year more than 50,000 people in England and Wales were infected with the infection, which is often triggered by a course of antibiotics. Although the elderly are most vulnerable to C. difficile, one in five cases involves those below the age of 65.
Infection experts said the labour Government had prioritised targets and finances at the expense of safety.
Dr Mark Enright, professor of microbiology at London’s Imperial College, said hospitals often suffered the worst outbreaks when managers were afraid to miss targets requiring emergency patients to be admitted within four hours, even if wards were overcrowded or harbouring infection.
The worst-ever outbreak of the disease, at hospitals run by Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells trust, killed 90 people in 2005 and 2006.
An independent investigation said pressure to meet waiting targets was one of the reasons the crisis spiralled out of control.
Prof Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University, said patients across Britain had paid a heavy price for the collective failure of hospitals and governments to take infection seriously.
“The failure to invest in proper isolation facilities was wrong; too many people have suffered and perished as a result,” he said.
Health spokesman Norman Lamb said two successive governments had failed to ensure recommendations from their own experts were followed.
He criticised the current labour prime minister for introducing “headline-grabbing gimmicks with little scientific value”, such as the recent “one off” deep-clean of all hospitals, and a new short-sleeves uniform policy, instead of ensuring that hospitals were detecting and isolating infected patients.